Some Things I Learned About the Nissan LEAF

By Charles Krome

I had lunch with Nissan vice president Carlos Tavares yesterday—just me, Tavares and about 100 of my new friends from the American Press Association—and it was quite the ol’ learning experience. Tavares, who heads up Nissan’s business in the Americas, was in town to discuss the automaker’s new “Innovation for All” marketing campaign, but he ended up spending much of his time talking about the Nissan LEAF. It was no surprise, of course, as America’s first “real” electric vehicle designed for the modern-day mainstream consumer is nearing its launch, and to say there’s still some skepticism about its viability is a serious understatement.

So, Tavares spent most of his time presenting counter-arguments to the points people usually use to discount the LEAF’s potential. For example, there’s the fact that while the car itself uses no gasoline and produces no tailpipe emissions, there are still plenty of environmental issues around generating the electricity on which it runs. As some on the green side of things like to point out, “clean coal” is an oxymoron.

Nissan’s take on this, per Tavares, is that the automaker is just that: An automaker. Its mission was/is to produce a transportation solution that does not operate directly by using gasoline and which emits no pollution when driven. It’s up to other stakeholders, like the utility companies, to devise ways to produce the LEAF’s electricity as cleanly as possible. To be clear here, he wasn’t trying to be a smart-ass or argue over semantics. He was trying to fit the LEAF into a bigger picture in which multiple parties work together to reduce the amount of non-renewable energy the world is consuming. Thus, he called out how Canada is focusing on hydroelectric energy and France is focused on nukes.

Then there’s the cost factor. The LEAF is essentially a compact car, but its MSRP is a very non-compact $32,780. But the Nissan party line is that there are a lot of ways to cut that down to size. In Tavares’ best-case scenario, which would cover any Sony employees who work in Fresno, Calif., a variety of state and local incentives, along with some monetary encouragement from Sony, could bring the LEAF’s price down to a cool $12,280. Then, as far as ongoing costs, he also said that ownership and maintenance expenses for the LEAF are significantly lower than for a car packing an internal combustion engine, based on things like the lower cost of electricity as compared to gasoline and the fact the LEAF has fewer moving parts than a car with a standard engine—or even a hybrid like the Toyota Prius.

Finally, let’s double-back to the question of subsidies to wrap things up, because Nissan’s position here, as with the issue of producing green energy to power the LEAF, is an important thing to keep in mind: Tavares reminded us that in the current automotive environment, it’s really government regulations that are driving much of today’s product changes, and if the government wants more EVs on the road, it has to help this new technology catch up with the internal combustion engine’s 150-year head-start.

Now, I didn’t come out of lunch a true believer in the LEAF, but I do believe that Nissan believes, and that’s certainly a start.

Author: Charles Krome

Charles Krome is a long-time automotive journalist who spent more than 10 years on the inside at General Motors and Ford, and also has corporate communications experience with Audi, Porsche and BASF Automotive Refinish. As a big motorsports fan growing up in the Detroit area, Krome was lucky enough to be able to attend numerous NASCAR, Indy car, F1 and SCCA events while still in his formative years. This, combined with a childhood that included significant (passenger) seat time in cars from Lotus and Jensen Healey, made him a car guy at an earlier age. Today, he lives in metro Detroit with his car wife, raising car kids.

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